Would you comment on President Alvin R. Dyer’s talk of 1962, “For What Purpose?” given at an Oslo, Norway Mission Conference? How should unpublished information or content in the Church be dealt with? Is there some way to handle it categorically? Thanks
I haven’t read that talk myself in many years. I pulled out my old mission binder (filled with talks I collected while serving and have added to over the years) and gave it a fresh look. For those that haven’t read it before, in 1961, then-President Dyer gave a talk encouraging his missionaries to recognize the righteous choices they had made – not just in this life but also pre-mortally. He also encourages them to use this knowledge to feel empowered to lead. Along the way, he also preaches a sort of unification theory about why black men did not hold the priesthood. Several ideas were popular at the time, including
- 1) Blacks, as descendants of Cain, received his curse (which includes a priesthood forfeiture)
- 2) Black men were less valiant than other men in the pre-mortal world and actually gave up the right to priesthood
- 3) The priesthood curse was placed on Ham’s descendants, which included modern blacks.
President Dyer seamlessly weaves these theories together into a single, flowing narrative. It’s quite impressive really.
Clearly, the Church doesn’t teach such doctrines anymore, which gives us a general guide for what to do when an old talk preaches strange doctrine. By the very definition of “doctrine” (which means “teaching”), if it’s not currently taught it’s not doctrine (if it’s not taught, it’s not a “teaching”). If you’d like to review modern teachings on this subject, you will probably enjoy reading the Church’s statement on race and the priesthood (when you click on that link, you should also spend some time looking at the material on the right side of the site).
For this specific instance, with these specific teachings, we have the clarifying words of another apostle, Bruce R. McConkie. In 1978, President Kimball, together with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, received the revelation lifting the priesthood ban. That same year, Elder McConkie shared his feelings on the change (I’m sure you’ll recall that Elder McConkie was formerly of the opinion that the ban would remain in effect until the Millennium). The apostle shares:
”Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever [include Elder Dyer here] has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.
“We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.
“It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject” (“All Are Alike unto God”, CES Religious Educators Symposium, 18 August 1978).
The simple fact is that the reason behind the ban has not yet come to light. Elder Dyer died in 1977, one year before the revelation was received. Undoubtedly he would have joined his fellow apostles in testifying of the will of the Lord revealed that was given during that fateful prayer, and renounced his old teachings in favor of the new revelation.